>> This is so late to report back on but I had some strongly festering thoughts after I had my little conversation with Julie Verhoeven in the basement of David David's pop-up store a few weeks ago.  Given there's now a permanent memento of the event – a video of the convo, which fully showcases my awkward and amateur interview skills (Alex Fury I am not… he stakes full ownership over the skill of In Conversation With Fashion People), I thought I'd let those thoughts bubble over.  

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I was fixated on the idea of interviewing Julie Verhoeven, whose body of work continues to fascinate me as her career has fluidly flitted about through fashion, art, music and interiors with her illustration skills as the primary weapon.  David Saunders, whose graphic tees are going down a storm at his Monmouth Street pop-up was kind enough to faciliate the 'In Conversation' event and Verhoeven also kindly agreed to do it. 

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David David's Pop-Up store on Monmouth Street, London

Yet afterwards, I felt like I had let down everyone's expectations of a cracker of an interview.  It was protracted to say the least interviewing Verhoeven, who I discovered to be shy, succinct in answers and yet disarmingly honest at the same time.  This made for a few revelatory moments but it was far from the happy-happy uplifiting gush-fest I was hoping it would be.  I wanted to really celebrate with a big HURRAH RAH RAH, how amazingly diverse Verhoeven's career has been – from illustrating for John Galliano when he first started, to collaborating with Louis Vuitton and Mulberry, to designing for the label Gibo, to art directing music videos, to putting her pen/brush strokes to walls, countless homewares/lifestyle collabs and prolifically illustrating all the while for magazine editorials and finally now decisively concentrating on her work as an artist.  Oh and for the lucky students doing Central Saint Martins fashion MA and Royal College of Arts fashion course, Verhoeven is a tutor too and it was encouraging to see many of her ex-students in the audience.  

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Julie Verhoeven's S/S 01 collaboration with Louis Vuitton – the one LV bag that I would pay an arm and a leg for…

Als I don't think Verhoeven was into the whole celebration thing.  At every opportunity, it seemed she downed on her own achievements.  This wasn't annoying false modesty but a genuine reproach from somebody who doesn't seem to place too much value on her body of work.  Much of this was connected with Verhoeven's flat-out discouragement of fashion illustration as a career.  She stressed at several instances how BLOODY difficult it was to make a living out of fashion illustration – how her work was at times undervalued and how there simply just wasn't the demand for her skill.  This was baffling to me.  If Verhoeven, whose work for me pretty much was a core game changer in fashion illustration and represented the KEY to successful longevity in a niche skillset within fashion, had a difficult time working, how does the the rest of the fashion illustration community bear up?  It was a ringing home truth for budding illustrators out there and perhaps not one that people wanted to hear.

This type of honesty was coupled with a few raw personal revelations – the death of her parents, the break-up with her husband and professional difficulties  – that Verhoeven cited as triggers towards her becoming an artist.  She said "It's pretty sad to realise that aged 38, you want to become an artist!" yet she is currently taking pleasure in scoffing at the egos of the art world with her two-part exhibition Gluteus Maximus in Amsterdam.

Despite the cartharsis of recognising herself as an artist, it felt blindingly obvious to me though that Verhoeven was ALWAYS an artist – self-defined or not.  Her drawings through their depiction of femininity, vulnerability, beauty and the absurd, be it on a bag or a wall, or a limited edition print always had an emotive effect on me.  She may have been drawing/designing to brief in those instances but the reponse from the audience (at least me) was never just restricted to that of consumer to product.  I raised this with Verhoeven but she seemed genuinely unsure of the power of her work.  There was no rah-rah hurrah spiel but instead we got an affirmation of a few things that are plainly obvious anyhow – how brutal the industry can be, how doing something for the love of it isn't all fun and games and that at the end of the day, one needs to be able to make a living.      

In the end, I'm glad the course of the interview was swerved by Verhoeven's natural manner and her overall refusal to be all glossily gung-ho about everything.  People probably won't learn even 1% about Verhoeven's work from this conversation, compared to what you get from her illustrations, even if she is reluctant to talk it up.  The gesture that really sealed the deal for the evening and summed up Verhoeven's introspective personality, was when she presented me with a personalised copy of her book A Bit of Rough, that have left speckles of glitter all over my sofa.  I haven't bothered to hoover it all up.

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Beyond the on schedule or even the on AND off schedule, London has a myriad of designers that exhibit at the London Fashion Week exhibitions who don't really need to make a big song and dance about their collections and simply get on with the business of selling.  Ostwald Helgason, made up of duo Susanne Ostwald and Ingvar Helgason, is one of those labels that has grown from strength to strength, and in the last few seasons has really found their strength in experimenting with textile advances.  Last season's gradiated mohair knits, fluffed up polka dots and flesh coloured spongey mesh are currently sitting happy in Browns Focus and Opening Ceremony and those two pow-wow stockists is no small feat for this duo.  

I already pounced on their CORKING backpack from their new S/S 12 collection but there are further corker pieces that seem to fit effortlessly in to Ostwald Helgason's sporty-but-pretty vibe of the collection.  Cork as a material in clothing/accessories isn't of course new but I do love the manipulation of the material into an unexpected bomber jacket with patent sleeves.  I've in fact ordered the jacket that will hopefully be my shell come March.  I might invite people to scribble on my back in biro for an ultra-customised take on the jacket just because I know how satisfying it is to write in biro on cork surface.

The 'woody' texture of the cork is further emphasised in the 'woody' grained linens that are then further contrasted with a frayed white cotton to add depth to what can be a seen as a fuddy duddy fabric.  Pops of neon trim also help the linen's cause.  Further naturalistic and 'grainy' in texture fabrics such as cotton netting, embroidered chiffons are injected into the mix and all the while, the shapes kick back and relax into sweatshirts, loose skorts, and mannish blazers, sometimes held up with carefree single strap cork brace.  Ostwald Helgason has toned back on print in the past few seasons but here it does turn up as a colourful echo of the embroidered chiffons.  Instead of plain and simple print, Helgason has turned to interesting surface texture and so a print of dried hydrangeas physically manifests as ACTUAL dried hydrangeas that have been individually laminated and embroidered on to a netted sweatshirt.  Christopher Kane may have cornered floral artifice with his S/S 12 collection featuring flower stickers but Ostwald Helgason takes it a step further with his dried ones.  Matching caps by Noel Stewart complete these enticing total looks, which also sees Ostwald Helgason venturing into shoes.  The summationg of all of this is that a collection containing cork, dried hydrangeas and burlap sack-esque netting manages to work on more than one level – strange that…  

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You'd think that print wouldn't be all that exciting to me coming from a city which excels at it in so many ways.  Then I get to Tokyo and I still manage to have a chuckle at Japanese duo mintdesigns' prints which were first on display in a retrospective start to the show to celebrate their ten year anniversary and then in their S/S 12 show.  That's a chuckle as in a genuine broad smile by the by, not a laugh at their expense.

The designers Nao Yagi and Hokuto Katsui behind mintdesigns have have spent a decade of refining a print placement methodology that believes wearable and simple shapes are the best foundations for their zany messaging.  Be it hot air balloons, wordplay or clip-art type symbols, you're never alarmed at the print because the shape of the garment is so approachable.  Mintdesigns seem to excel at making friendly clothes that want to give you a hug, not unlike designers such as Peter Jensen or Eley Kishimoto. 

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mintdesigns 10 year print retrospective

There's a similar application of wit that is best seen in their S/S 12 collection in this beautifully crafted lace and velvet devore fabric where words of kitsch positivity burst forth – 'Happy Mistake', 'New Hope', 'Lovely' – you see why it was impossible for me not to smile?  The message was especially potent at a newly revived Tokyo Fashion Week (read my compact round-up of it on Style.com) that after the year's events could do with as much upbeat messaging as possible.  Raised favour circles, lame star prints and striped sheer organza cocoons complete Mintdesigns' S/S 12 collection that will please their fans.  Katsuya Kamo (hair and make-up artist of Chanel 'paper headpieces' fame) also assisted the show greatly with his delicate bejewelled branches atop of the models' hair. 

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mintdesigns S/S 12

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mintdesigns 'garage' store in basement of Parco, Shibuya

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mintdesigns A/W 11-12

I stopped by their sweet basement 'garage' store at Shibuya's Parco and couldn't help but be swayed by their current A/W 11-12 collection.  Piped fleecy lines in chequered formation on a pair of trousers were just the ticket for me to buy my first mintdesigns piece.  Never mind the textural complexity of the piece.  I mean just looking at these lines reminds me of all things good – lines of buttercream icing, the bright corals on juicy scallops and Japanese peach candies.  Alongside a Louise Gray shirt, an Issey Miyake bargain of a cardigan from Yoox and a pair of Simone Rocha's sculptural ponyhair brogues, there was plenty of touchy feely here to shock the gentle surroundings of Westgate-on-Sea, where I hid away for the weekend.

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It's understandable if you've come on to the blog in recent weeks and just been plain CONFUUUUUSED.  The names of designers that I saw at Tokyo Fashion Week aren't exactly household or internationally renowned (yet).  If any of you saw the excellent 'Future Beauty' exhibition at the Barbican you might have been wondering what was the next saga to come after the Comme, Issey, Yohji chapters in the trajectory of Japanese fashion.  The 'Japan Fashion Now' exhibition at the FIT might have provided some clues into the complex street style-led fashion landscape of Tokyo.  An exhibition that is currently on in Tokyo's Opera City Gallery entitled 'Feel and Think: A New Era of Tokyo Fashion' is the culminative step to both those exhibitions.  Ten designers, all having started their businesses roughly at the beginning of the 21st century, all coming off the back of Japan's sublime impact on fashion in the 80s and the rise of street style culture in the 90s.  They form the structure of this fascinating exhibition that invites each designer to present an installation, which sums up their work.  This doesn't necessarily mean yer' basic clothes arrangedon mannequins which is precisely what made the exhibition such a joy to navigate and on top of that, there was the physical configuration of architect Ryuji Nakamura's eye-level beams that divided up the space.  So it was that I spent an afternoon getting lost in a rabbit warren of the unknown which I'm going to attempt to break down here…

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Anrealage
Designer: Kunihiko Morinaga
Established 2003
Morinaga was born in 1980 and graduated in sociology from Waseda University.  He went onto to Vantan Design Academy where he remade second-hand clothes as a student.  His adage is 'God is in the details', valuing the little things that would normally go unnoticed.

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Anrealage's installation comprised of a representation of their 'wideshortslimlong' collection where clothes are stretched beyond belief both vertically and horizontally.  It was a perplexing feeling looking at the exhibition and becomes even more so when you find out that the clothes are entirely wearable – just that the proportions have all shifted.  Like I said before, Anrealage could well be likened to  Viktor & Rolf, but if i'm honest there's a cleverness to Anrealage's clothes that perhaps the Dutch duo's recent seasons currently lack. 

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Where to buy? Zozotown (worldwide shipping)

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h.Naoto
Designer: Naoto Hirooka
Established 2000
Hirooka was born in Hyogo in 1977 and graduated from Bunka Fashion College.  His punk-led designs initially catered to the subcultures of gothic-lolita and visual-kei and have now gained an international audience crossing over to music, cartoons, animation and game collabs.

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h.Naoto admittedly isn't an aesthetic that I can personally get down with but his clothes certainly represent a sector of fashion in Tokyo that can't be ignored because of the city's unique make-up of sub-cultures and style tribes.  Visual-kei, gothic lolita are worlds that I know nothing about but weirdly Naoto's appeal has become rather international with pocket niche audiences in the USA and Europe hankering after his clothes.  It's an affirmation of the idea that most Western preconception of Japanese fashion is intrinsically linked to Japanese 'crazy' streetstyle.

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Where to buy?  E-shop (worldwide shipping)

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Keisuke Kanda
Designer: Keisuke Kanda
Established 2005
Kanda was born in Kagoshima in 1977 and he's a self-taught designer who began by wanting to impress a girl by making her a dress.  He never gave her the dress but has since been making heavily 'sweet' hand crafted clothes that riff off of Japanese lolita subculture.

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Keisuke Kanda's work probably intrigues me the most because I know so little about it. He doesn't have a list of stockists as such as sells mostly direct to customers through roving trunk shows.  Kanda exhibited a version of a sort of wedding trousseau as well as video installations of 'kawaii' girls, the sort that manifest into innocent/subversive manga drawings.  There's no getting away from a lot of this new gen of Tokyo fashion designers as being sublimely affected by Tokyo streetstyle culture.  Kanda invents his own specific streetstyle tribe that fit in with his aesthetic and it's a world that you either want to violently escape into or are completely turned off by.  I'm definitely the former.

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Where to buy?  E-shop and Lamp Harajuku (both Japan only) Very excited that he's opening a store in Koenji soon though!!!

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matohu
Designers: Hiroyuki Horihata and Makikio Sekiguchi
Established 2005
Horihata and Sekuguchi both went to Bunka Fashion College and then gained pattern cutting experience in Comme des Garcons womenswear and Yohji Yamamoto menswear.  Together they launched matohu under the concept of 'the Japanese aesthetics that underlies newly created clothes.'

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I'll be visiting Matohu's collection further but you have to be very careful not to misread their clothes.  These aren't 'traditional' Japanese clothes and the designers are very wary of being labelled thus for fear of alienating a domestic audience that often have trouble with wearing traditional Japanese dress (in the same way that I'd never wear a cheong sam‚Ķ).  Instead, Matohu's clothes are rooted in Japanese themes but are articulated as contemporary dress.  Their signature Nagagi robe which I tried on in their calming installation is neither a Kimono or a Western piece of clothing but a timeless piece that has inklings of a Japanese sensibility.

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Where to buy? Nuan (in Japan only)

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mina perhonen
Designer: Akira Minagawa
Established 1995
Minagawa is primarily a textiles designer who started mina perhonen (initially called mina) in 1995 fusing Scandinavian sensibilities with Japanese in clothes that he considers to be 'daily wear'.

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mina perhonen has an exhaustive list of international stockists and is often mistaken for being Finnish because of the misleading name.  The print work reminds me of Eley Kishimoto and even Marimekko at times (both have vast appeal in Japan).  I had a go sticking my head through the cardboard cut-out at the exhibition‚Ķ

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Where to buy? Couverture (worldwide shipping)

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mintdesigns
Designers: Hokuto Katsui and Nao Yagi
Established 2001
katsui and Yagi met at Central Saint Martins London and returned to Tokyo after graduation to start mintdesigns based on creating clothes that are design products rather than transient trend pieces, with a focus on original textiles.

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mintdesigns' latest collection totally floored me for being utterly accomplished and assured of their aesthetic and that probably comes from their ten years of experience.  Here, ten years of archive prints are on display amongst a mass of shredded paper.  I couldn't help but be slayed by the playfulness of mintdesigns' message and actually beyond the prints, their original fabrics are also worthy of a mention (I can attest to that with a pair of hideously expensive trousers I bought in Parco on the trip‚Ķ but you'll see why they're worth the moolah later‚Ķ)

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Where to buy? Zozotown (worldwide shipping) and Nuan (in Japan only)

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SASQUATCHfabrix
Designers: Daisuke Yokoyama and Katsuki Araki
Established 2003
Yokoyama comes from an architectural design background and Araki came from textile designs and together they started off with graphic design t-shirts that has now evolved into a menswear brand that mines the world for inspiration, seeing the 'foreign' world through their Japanese eyes.

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SASQUATCHfabrix isn't short of international recognition with supporters like LN-CC in London.  If i were a man I'd be getting into SASQUATCHfabrix unique blends of culture-mixing ensembles.  They are just one of the many insanely good menswear labels that are thriving and catching international eyes in Tokyo right now.  They're a prime example of being able to look at cultures outside their own – Mexican, Tibetan, American casual and workwear, Scandinavian – and interpret these influences in their own unique way.  Like a Japanese tourist gone mad‚Ķ

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Where to buy? LN-CC (worldwide shipping) - I spot a jacket that's very Drive-esque just in case any of you are crushing Ryan Gosling

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Somarta
Designer: Tamae Hirokawa
Established 2006
Hirokawa was born in Kanagawa in 1976 and graduated from Bunka Fashion College.  After working in Issey Miyake's knitwear department, she founded SOMA DESIGN, a collective that specialises in fashion, graphics, sound and visual direction.  Her own label Somarta rose to fame through her 'Skin Series' of seamless knitted bodysuits and continues to push fabric techniques to the max.

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I was so happy to see Somarta's knitted bodysuits in their full glory at the exhibition as these were what caught my attention a few years ago.  I vaguely remember a paltry blog post.  It's easy to see how Somarta made a buzz when she first burst onto Tokyo's Fashion Scene and the trick now is to see how she takes her design to a commercial level. 

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Where to buy? Nuan (in Japan only)

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Theatre Products
Designers: Akira Takeuchi, Tayuka Nakanshi, Kao Kanamori
Established 2001
This design trio come from various disciplinary backgrounds but came together after exhibiting at the Little More Gallery and was established under the concept 'the world will become a theatre stage if we have theatrical clothes'.  Kitschy and whimsical themes form the basis of Theatre Products' collections.  Their presentations are known for innovation involving elaborate sets, wild locations and even AR technology. 

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An interactive installation will always get my vote and this 'shop' set up by Theatre Products made me want to shop immediately.  Sadly despite the real looking pricetags, nothing was for sale and instead a barcode reader was there to facilitate a tinkering of sound.  Each barcode would scan in as a musical note and so you could make up your own tune by going crazy with the scanner.  Rampantly, I ended up wanting to buy some Theatre Products and ducked into their Parco concession straight afterwards. 

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Where to buy? Zozotown (worldwide shipping) and Nuan (in Japan only)

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writtenafterwards
Designer: Yoshikazu Yamagata
Established 2006
Yoshikazu Yamagata studied at Central St Martins and worked for John Galliano as well as winning prizes at ITS#3 competition.  His collections are not based on seasonal delivery but rather he concentrates on asking what is fashion, normally in the form of installations that form basis for discussion and critique.

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writtenafterwards is another one that I wrote about in the early days of Style Bubble.  Yamagata is the one that created a giant bra for the sake of artistic/fashion-based expression. Why?  Well I'm not exactly sure.  Then again, I'm not exactly sure why I was peering inside a cottage where squirrels, badgers, polar bears and lions were hard at work on a weaving machine with piles of fake money on the floor.  A statement that combines notions of Animal Farm with child labour in factories today?  Who knows‚Ķ 
writtenafterwards is another one that creates curiosity in me by being fairly elusive. 

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Where to buy?  Nowhere as far as I'm aware‚Ķ